Faulty Workmanship Not Occurrence, Travelers No Duty to Defend / Indemnify Real Estate Investment Companies, Federal Judge Rules

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PHILADELPHIA,  September 1 — A Pennsylvania federal judge granted summary judgment Travelers Insurance last week, ruling it had no duty to defend insured real estate developers who were sued for claims of defective community living infrastructure construction.

In the breach of contract suit over coverage (bad faith claims had been dismissed earlier in the case), U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg said that no coverage existed under the applicable Travelers insurance policies because the defective workmanship issues were not “occurrences” under well-established Pennsylvania precedent.

The insured plaintiffs, Northridge Village LP and Hastings Investment Co. Inc., bought and subdivided lots in Chester County, Pa., subsequently selling them to a builder.   Northridge built roads, storm water and runoff  management and other infrastructure for the planned community.

The community  association alleged defects with the construction of roads, drainage ponds, utility boxes, and other items, later suing Northridge and Hastings in Pennsylvania state court in 2013.  Northridge and Hastings then sought defense and indemnity for the suits under a commercial general liability policy with a $1 million occurrence limit, $2 million aggregate limit and $2 million products-completed-operations aggregate limit, as well as excess coverage of $2 million.  When Travelers denied the claims, Northridge and Hastings brought a coverage and bad faith suit against Travelers  in 2015.

Judge Goldberg dismissed the coverage suit, relying on what he called well-settled precedent stemming from a 2006 case, Kvaerner Metals Div. v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 908 A.2d 888 (Pa. 2006).  Judge Goldberg held that under Kvaerner, construction workmanship issues did not constitute “occurrences”‘ within the meaning of the CGL policies, as they were not accidental, fortuitous events which the instrument of insurance is designed to cover:

 “Courts in this circuit have consistently applied Kvaerner and held that claims based upon faulty workmanship do not amount to an ‘occurrence,’ and thus do not trigger an insurer’s duty to defend … The same conclusion has been reached in this circuit in cases where the faulty workmanship results in foreseeable damage to property other than the insured’s work product…Given the weight of Pennsylvania and Third Circuit precedent, I conclude that the term ‘occurrence’ in defendants’ CGL policies and excess policies does not include faulty workmanship. Further, the definition of ‘occurrence’ excludes negligence claims premised on faulty workmanship.”

Judge Goldberg further held that even if a duty to defend were potentially triggered, that was mooted by a ‘Real Estate Development Activities’ exclusion which also appeared in the applicable policies.

Northridge Village LP and Hastings Investment Co. Inc. v. Travelers Indemnity Co. of Connecticut et al., (E.D. Pa 2:15-cv-01947)(Goldberg., J.)

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Faulty Construction Not Covered Loss Under Nationwide Builders’ Policy, Pa. Federal Judge Rules

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PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 16  — Two homebuilders insured by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company accused in an underlying lawsuit of poor workmanship are entitled to no coverage, U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson ruled earlier  this week, because such workmanship did not constitute a fortuitous  “occurrence” which would trigger coverage under the policy.

William Tierney III sued  Robert and Hannelore Bealer, owners of Affordable Homes for foundation cracks and water leakage problems they built for Tierney in Pennsylvania State Court.   The complaint alleged that a May 2014 flooding of the home’s basement was due to faulty construction.   In response to Bealers’ requests for defense and indemnity in that case, Nationwide declined, citing no triggering  occurrence under policy, despite the Bealers’ claims that the problems were actually caused by superseding events including heavy storms and shifting ground.

The Bealers sued Nationwide for coverage in 2015, and the suit was removed to Federal Court.

Judge  Baylson, citing Pennsylvania law requiring analysis of the underlying complaint only, found that Nationwide was within its rights to deny coverage under the language of the policy:

“The Bealers’ alternative explanation for the cause of Tierney’s property damage is outside the scope of this analysis because it is not pled in the underlying complaint. . . Tierney’s factual allegations are that a failure to properly design and construct the property caused the damage at issue. These are faulty workmanship claims, and the Bealers’ attempts to reframe them as based on an ‘occurrence’ due to the ‘degree of fortuity’ involved in the intervening factors that allegedly led to the damage, are unavailing.”

Bealer v. Nationwide (E.D. Pa., No. 16-3181, Nov. 16, 2016)(Baylson, J.)